Less than a month after the U.S. Senate held its first hearing on the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to legalization for America’s undocumented youth, comes another first today: the inaugural hearing, called on by the Senate, about the economic benefits of immigration.
Organized by Sen. Chuck Schumer, chairman of the Senate Judiciary’s immigration subcommittee, the hearing brings together a group of business leaders, education experts and local elected officials for what promises to be a sobering assessment of how the issues of immigration and economy are intertwined. They will give testimonies on how low-skilled and high-skilled immigrants, from fruit farmers to software engineers, contribute to our society and grow our economy. They will outline, in great detail, how everyone wins when we welcome immigrants of all stripes — Mexican workers and Somali refugees — to our country.
And they will press for immigration reform at the national level, especially in light of recently passed anti-immigrant bills in Arizona, Alabama and Georgia. Paul Bridges, the Republican mayor of a small farming town in the Georgia, goes as far as saying that “federal intervention is needed in all of this.”
“The new law that passed in Georgia” — HB87, a younger and stricter sister of the anti-immigrant bill that passed in Arizona last year — “is devastating our farming area economically,” Bridges told me in a phone interview yesterday. In an unlikely partnership, the 58-year-old conservative official is a member of a class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the state for signing what’s being called a “papers please” law.
“We have a lot of mixed families in my town. For example, the grandma has papers, the daughter does not, but her two daughters has papers,” Bridges said. “This law will make that family criminal, even though they own their own land, even through they own the land surrounding their home. The grandma can be arrested for harboring her own ‘illegal alien’ daughter. It’s not right. It’s not fair.”
Brad Smith, general counsel and senior vice president of corporate affairs for Microsoft, also points to the issue of fairness — from the perspective of a high-tech industry competing in a global economy.
For the past few years, companies like Microsoft have called for an increase of employment-based, H-1B visas, as the knowledge and information has continued to explode. “The supply of green cards has not been brought up since 1990,” Smith said. “Supply remains at 140,000 permanent visas per year, and the limit includes not just the workers we seek to attract but also their family members.” The problem has become such a headache for Microsoft that, facing the shortage of visas, they had to open a software development center in Vancouver. “We didn’t want to lose them as employees,” Smith said. “In various ways, our immigration system has not caught up with changes in our economy.”
Asked what grade he would give the federal government based on how it’s handled immigration reform, Smith demurred. Instead, he said, ”The real issue here is not a particular grade. The report card has remained incomplete. The assignment has simply not been turned in.”
What grade would you give Washington?
Follow me here for more updates on this hearing, and a fuller analysis later.